This simple meal has comforted me in both kitchens home and away. When my friend and I backpacked through Europe after college (wow, almost a decade ago…) it because a staple of our diet anytime we had access to a kitchen, whether it was the communal “kitchen” of a hostel or our own apartment for the week. It was a dish that made us feel normal. For a few moments, we weren’t dirty travelers living our of our backpacks for the next 10 weeks, having picnics of bread, fruit and cheese from the local Aldi and saving up for real restaurant dinners when we could (not that it wasn’t great!). But it was the moments when we had access to a kitchen that were magical. When we could pretend that we weren’t moving every few days, but grounded, just for a few days. We dined on pasta, salads, soups and occasionally some chicken or beef. The meals were always simple as we had a limited pantry to work with, but somehow the zucchini over pasta was always a favorite.
Summer gives me food anxiety. Every time I go to the market, not matter if it’s been a day or a week, there’s something new. I’m now spotting peaches, apricots, sweet corn, hot peppers, lemongrass and so much more. The pressure of wanting to buy everything, knowing that there is only so much my husband and I can consume before it starts to spoil is almost too much to handle. Winter’s easy. There are a finite amount of greens and root vegetables to choose from, plus shelf stable items, making it easy to create a menu. But summer meals are based off what looks good. It’s very hard to narrow down a dish when everything looks so good.
I’ve spent so much time lately putting up cherries, I haven’t actually been able to enjoy that many right now. Well, of course as I’m pitting bowls of them I need to quality check them. One out of every 10 cherries is pretty fair. Cherry season is a part of the summer I look forward to most but this year it’s been cut short. Extra curricular activities and weekend plans has allowed me to visit my favorite greenmarkets much less frequently than I would like. Here’s hoping there are still some left next weekend.
While I have them, garlic scapes are showing up in everything, from my morning eggs, to my afternoon grilled veggie sandwich and especially dinner. Last year was all about the purees, mostly pesto and dips. This year, we roast. After discovering how garlic scapes transform from pungent, almost spicy garlic to a sweet and crunchy when they come in contact with a bit of oil, I was sold. For the most part I’ve been sauteing or roasting scapes and adding them to a dish. Stirring them into salads, topping burgers with them or mixing them into an omelet last-minute. However this time I was excited to cook with, not side by side.
Almost all fruits can be put up in simple syrup. No need to search for fancy canning recipes, just can as is with anything from a super light syrup (10%) to heavy syrup (50%) and save them for a winter cobbler or pie. I put up peaches three years ago when I started canning and honestly it was pretty awful. I hadn’t yet mastered the skill of blanching, essential for easy peel peaches. They still tasted like peaches but were soft and squishy when I opened them a few months later. I had to drain the syrup and peaches for a good hour just to remove enough moisture so they wouldn’t soak through my pie crust. It was still a summer pie in the middle of February, but I was not impressed. It was then that I swore off whole fruit canning. I’m a perfectionist, and if I couldn’t do it perfectly (the first time…) I figured jars of jam and a freezer full of berries was plenty good.
I was perfectly content with my decision until my friend and I opened up a jar of her sour cherries from last harvest. There was no need for cobbler. We put together an elaborate cheese plate to serve them with but found eating them by the spoonful out of the jar was most effective. I pleaded to take home one of her last jars and poured its fruit and syrup contents over generous bowls of vanilla ice cream. Pure magic. I knew I wouldn’t be lucky enough to keep stealing her canned cherries (did I mention she’s 4 states away?) so I’d have to suck it up and go back on my “no whole fruit” canning rule. Of course, being me, I couldn’t just use simple syrup. There had to be a twist.